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Book One: Rise and Fall
This is the ninth chapter of.
East of Omashu
It was the morning of the Sun Moon, and I was tense with excitement. Freedom was within reach! As I lay on my cot, I stared up at the ceiling, imagining that soon, I could be watching the sky instead. A grin spread across my face. "Well, you look awfully happy," said a male voice. I turned my head to see Lo standing nearby. "What are you thinking of?" he asked. I turned red as all the slaves' eyes swiveled in my direction. I couldn't help but feel uneasy under their gaze; Tang's calculating stare was especially unnerving. Furthermore, I couldn't answer Lo's question honestly without jeopardizing myself. "I'm just glad we don't have to work today," I said after a tense moment of silence. Everyone but Tang made noises of agreement; Lo even said, "Amen, sister," causing both Yin and Niga to giggle. We all chatted for a little while. Lo tried a few jokes on us, but unfortunately, they weren't particularly funny. "Why did the possum-chicken cross the road?" he asked Hanwei as he bit back his own laughter. "To get to the other side?" wondered Hanwei in his gravelly voice. Lo looked completely dumbfounded. "How did you know that?" he queried. "Well, why would you cross a road?" Hanwei countered. Lo turned bright red and his expression became indignant, once more allowing Yin and Niga, the two youngest of us, to burst into a fit of giggles. However, the entire time, my mind was only half on the conversation; the other half couldn't help but be preoccupied with my eminent departure. Worry began to plague me. What if something went wrong? What if Mr. Shao or his wife decided to check on us? What if my companions questioned me incessantly? Eventually, Ming brought out an ancient Pai Sho board along with a set of tiles that was missing a few pieces. We all took turns playing for a good few hours, except for Tang, who continued sitting in his dark corner. I couldn't shake off the feeling that he was staring at me and me alone. "I win!" exclaimed Lo suddenly as he moved his orange blossom forward. Hanwei, whom he was playing against, shook his head solemnly. "I'm twice your age," he said. "You think you can beat me at Pai Sho?" With that, he prodded his chipped white lotus tile. Lo's grin became a scowl. I glanced out the window at that moment and noticed that the sun was about to set. I stood up. "Where are you going, Lin?" Yin asked curiously. "She's off to chuck a few rocks around," said Lo, who was frowning at the board, trying to find a loophole in his obvious defeat. "She'll probably break a few windows. Do us a favor, Lin, and lob one at either the farmer's or Tang's head." I smiled slightly, purposely neglecting to tell them I wasn't an Earthbender. "Actually, I'm going somewhere that doesn't involve vandalism," I told them. Ming looked at me. She seemed to sense my intention because she stood up and hugged me. "Good luck," she whispered quietly enough no one else would hear. Then she took her seat and pretended as if she had been sitting the entire time. I shook away my surprise and walked towards the door of the shack as Niga tried to take on Hanwei in Pai Sho. I slid the door open gently and plodded out quietly. Then, I made my way to the outhouse, which, luckily, was in the direction of the trees where I'd meet Chong and reclaim my father's sword. I was halfway to the forest, my figure cloaked in the shadows of the sunset, when I heard an ominous voice at my right. "Going somewhere?" I spun in that direction; I could barely make out Tang standing there, but I saw enough. I immediately began to sprint towards the trees, but he was quicker. He pounced, lunging for my waist and causing me to fall. He then stood up and forced me to stand by tugging my hair. I grimaced but refused to yell out. Tang grabbed my arm and twisted it around. This time, I yelped in pain. "Does it hurt?" Tang asked rhetorically, a sneer in his voice. He twisted a little more, causing tears to well in my eyes. Had he seen fit to further disfigure my arm, he would've surely dislocated it. He shoved me forward, forcing me to walk ahead of him. I dug my feet into the ground, resisting, but he pushed on. In desperation, I trod on his feet. He stumbled, and his grip on me loosened. I managed to pull free and sprinted towards the forest, knowing Chong was waiting there, as we had agreed. However, Tang leapt at me, and, after a brief struggle where I obtained a fat lip and he received a black eye, he held me down by practically sitting on me and forcing my face into the ground; his knees dug into my back and my mouth filled with dirt. I lifted my head slightly and spat out the mud. "What's the matter, Earthbender?" Tang taunted. "Can't manipulate rocks without standing up?" I didn't reply; instead, my mind was buzzing, trying to calculate my options as Tang forced me to my feet. I could once more struggle, but I worried that the consequences would involve maiming. I could use what little Firebending I could muster, but by now, the sun had set and my source was diminished; furthermore, it wasn't worth the risk of exposing myself. I gritted my teeth as pain jolted through my arm. Tang continued to shove me forward, but I decided not to resist. Tears of anger and frustration leaked past my squinting eyelids. "Why?" I asked after a few moments of slow walking. "Why what?" Tang said contemptuously. "Why are you sabotaging me?" "Because you're a yellow-eyed foreigner," he responded. "And I can get something for turning you in." I ignored the jibe at my alien nature, but at his second answer, I scoffed, "What does the farmer give you for being a rat? You're still stuck at this forsaken marsh, aren't you?" Tang halted, visibly stiffening. "I'm not doing this for the farmer," he said after some hesitation. He continued on his way, then, and I recognized our path; he was taking me to the street that led to the farm. If it wasn't for my curiosity, I would've panicked. If he had been taking me to Mr. Shao, I would have had some idea of my fate, but now, I was entirely clueless. Suddenly, the ground began to tremble. My legs wobbled as the shock traveled through my body. Tang's grip on my arm loosened, and I managed to shake free. I stumbled back towards the slaves' shack, which we had passed at a distance. By the time the quake had ended, I was a sizeable distance away from Tang, who had been completely unbalanced. I glanced at him as he struggled to stand, his legs still unsteady, but I continued to the shack, knowing that it would be fruitless to run to the forest now. My freedom had been within reach for a few short moments, until Tang ruined my chance. Now, I was cornered; if I ever tried to escape again, he would be waiting to bring me down. I was still unsure of what he wanted me for, but I knew enough to be aware that fleeing had become impossible. I was also aware that for the moment, I was safer around witnesses. It took all my strength to not crumble with despair.
Po tapped his finger on the stone table impatiently. He glanced around at the cavernous yet small cellar, illuminated by a dusty lantern hanging by the ceiling. About twenty individuals were crowded in, all people whom Yinsu and Xia, her blind daughter, trusted. All of them had also lost something to the oppressive Lord Qin, dictator of Kung. Yinsu herself had lost her husband, who had been arrested after he spoke ill of Lord Qin; apparently, his sedition behavior had occurred in a quiet place, when no one but Yinsu and Xia had been near, meaning someone had been eavesdropping. Either way, all of the attendees were desperate for a positive change. Xia, who was sitting beside Po, placed a hand gently on his. "You're making the table shake," she said. Po nodded absentmindedly, forgetting she couldn't see his gesture. Then, he stood up on his chair and the murmurs of those gathered died down. "I know your stories," Po began in a voice so soft only those closest to him could hear. Louder, he said, "I know that you've all suffered. You've been deprived, perhaps not of food, but of free thought." He took a shaky breath and continued, "You've watched all your hard-earned cash go to taxes that only increase Lord Qin's own personal wealth." (He had received this information from Xia earlier.) "You've seen the dictator's minions steal your family and friends for having a talent they had no control over." Po paused in his speech, hesitant if he should continue. What if there was someone in this room that would betray his intentions? After all, most of those gathered knew little of what he would ask of them. "What's eating you, kid?" an older man sitting near the back asked. Po ignored him but plowed on, gaining confidence from Xia's encouraging smile. "Well, how many of you knew Earthbenders kidnapped by policemen?" he inquired of the room at large. Almost everyone raised their hands. "And how many of you knew why those Earthbenders were taken?" No one raised their hands; instead, they glanced around, as if expecting someone else to acknowledge the question. "That's what I thought," continued Po. "The reason Lord Qin and his cronies are arresting benders and dissenters is because they're afraid of them. Earthbenders represent the old ways, when millions of people lived in relative harmony and the Avatar kept the peace. That was also a time that governments seldom interfered in the affairs of their people, and they even admired Earthbenders." "How do you know this?" asked a young woman sitting near the front. "You don't look old enough to have been there." "I know because I've read about the Old Days," said Po solemnly. "If you're willing, I can help you bring back those days." "What can you do?" a middle-aged man wondered snidely. "If you shut up, maybe he'll tell you!" Xia retorted in an irritated voice. The man stood up defensively, and Xia responded by doing the same. Po raised his hands in a calming manner and said, "Listen, if we can't cooperate amongst ourselves, then how are we going to overthrow your dictator?" With that, both the man and Xia sat down immediately, and the voices that had arisen with the impending commotion halted quickly. All eyes and ears were once more focused on Po. "We're listening," said an elderly woman. "We'll make specific plans later," Po said, "but for now, we need to form our alliance." "Why do you want to help us?" the woman asked. "You're not even from here." "It's my duty," said Po. Then, after considerable hesitation, he added, "I'm the Avatar." At first, everyone was completely dumbfounded; then, the cynical, middle-aged man burst into laughter, breaking the silence. "You?" he said. "The Avatar is a myth!" "Actually, he's not," said Xia. "My great-grandfather taught the last Avatar Earthbending." Everyone stared at her in surprise. "Girl, your great-grandfather was one of the first to go when Lord Qin came to power," said the cynic. "Perhaps that was why," input Po. "If he was close to the Avatar, he would've been a prime target. The Avatar is the enemy of those in charge, the manifestation of the way the world once was." "Maybe we should turn you in?" the cynic asked. He stood up and advanced while Po backed away slightly. Xia stood and faced him. "You're not taking him to Qin, Ji Lu," she said. She pointed at him threateningly, her unseeing eyes staring blankly at his feet. "He's our only hope for liberation." She then sighed, her usual, feisty self diminishing slightly. She turned to Po, her eyes still cast downward. "I want to be able to Earthbend freely," she announced. Po's eyes widened in surprise. "You're an Earthbender?" he asked. Xia nodded solemnly. "I am, and my mother and I pledge ourselves to your cause," she said. Po glanced at Yinsu, who looked rather uncertain. He watched her as she sprinted up the stairs leading to the main level of her tea shop. He immediately sensed something was amiss, and judging by her sudden expression of shock, Xia had as well. "Oh no," she whispered to herself as she too ran for the stairs. Po followed her while those gathered in the room remained. They caught up to Yinsu as she opened the door into the dark of Kung City. Xia grabbed her mother's shoulder, bringing her up short. "What are you doing?" she asked urgently. "How dare you question your own mother!" Yinsu exclaimed indignantly, although her shifty look revealed her guilt. "You were going to the police!" accused Xia. "No, I wasn't!" "You're lying," said Xia menacingly. Yinsu glared around defensively. "What?" she asked of Po and Xia's accusing stares. "Don't tell me it never occurred to you that what he is planning might be wrong!" Po gazed at her levelly, trying to keep the disgust and shock he felt off his face. Yinsu had taken him in, despite knowing he was both a bender and a foreigner. Why, though, if she was just going to squeal? "Mom, he's our chance to rid ourselves of Qin," said Xia. "If it wasn't for Qin, Dad would be with us. How can you report to someone like that?" Then, understanding seemed to dawn on her face. "It was you! You ratted Dad out!" "What? No!" "Mom, you know I can tell when you lie!" "Let me explain—" "I don't want to hear it," Xia said with venom in her voice. Yinsu looked uncertain for a moment, then said, "Fine." She wrenched her shoulder from her daughter's grip and turned away from the door. She plodded to a back room without looking back. "I hate to tell you this, Xia," began Po hesitantly, "but if this resistance is going to work, you might have to keep an eye on her." Xia ignored his improper figure-of-speech, sighing instead. "I know," she said. "Thank-you for helping us." She smiled slightly. "Thanks for letting me," said Po. Then, another thought occurred to him. "You said you're an Earthbender, right?" "Yes. Why?" "Can you teach me a few basic moves?" Xia showed no surprise; instead, she said, "There's a quiet gorge east of here; we can go there tomorrow."
"How did you find this place anyway?" Po asked Xia as they stood in a shallow gorge east of Kung City. "My father used to bring my brother and me here when we were younger," Xia responded. She twisted her ankle, forming a small fissure in the hard ground. "He would keep watch while I expanded my ability." She punched the air, bringing up a sizeable rock. "You have a brother?" Po wondered. He had slept the last two nights at her and Yinsu's shop, and he had never seen another soul inside besides customers. "Had," said Xia. She frowned, her face morose, then she shook herself and turned to Po. "I'm warning you," she said, getting down to business, "but I'm not a master. My skill is limited only to what I've taught myself." Po shrugged, then realized she couldn't see his gesture. Why am I always forgetting she's blind? "That's okay. I'm an Airbender, yet I can't do much." "You're an Airbender?" asked Xia with fascination. "Sort of," said Po sheepishly. He rubbed the back of his neck, then copied the stance that Xia had taken. "So you use Earthbending to navigate your way around?" "How can you tell?" said Xia, clearly surprised he had guessed that. "I don't know," responded Po, as confused as she was. "It feels like I once knew a blind Earthbender. . ." Xia shrugged nonchalantly, then changed the subject. "I'm going to lob a rock at you, and you stop it by punching it, okay?" Without waiting for a response, she pulled a boulder from the rocky ground and shoved it at Po. Po resisted the urge to dive out of the way and instead thrust his fist forward; it came into contact with the surface of the stone, which crumbled. Po felt the shock run up his arm as debris littered the ground around him. He glanced at Xia, whose blank eyes were wide with astonishment. "Wow," she said. "You're a natural." "Yeah, I guess I am," said Po.
"Impressive, Avatar Po."
"Did you say something?" Po asked Xia as they walked back to Kung City. "No," she said. Snidely, she added, "Are you hearing things now?" "Most Avatars have difficulty adjusting to their natural opposite." "Who are you?" Po said out loud. "You know me, Po," said Xia exasperatedly. "Not you," said Po. "There's someone speaking to me. I don't know why, but their voice is familiar." "We've met before, Po. Think back to when you visited the Spirit World." "Avatar Nuo Fu?" "Who?" wondered Xia. "Nuo Fu, the Avatar before me," replied Po. "I think he's speaking to me." "I can't hear a thing, Po," said Xia. "Besides, my hearing is one of the few senses of mine that does work, and it usually works well. You must be hallucinating." "You're not hallucinating, Po," said Nuo Fu, "but I am in your head." "What do you want?" Po asked him internally with a rather impatient tone. "To congratulate you," said Nuo Fu. "You took to your opposing art immediately. It took me over a week to Waterbend for the first time." "Thanks," Po internalized uneasily. He could still remember Zhong's words of warning against Nuo Fu. "Now, listen to me, Po," continued Nuo Fu. "I know Avatar Zhong has been spreading nasty rumors about me; just know they're not true." "He hasn't told me much," said Po. "What was he talking about?" "Don't worry about it," dismissed Nuo Fu. "Anyway, I suggest you leave Kung; don't waste your time liberating them. Their plight is just the way it's supposed to be." "I can't leave," said Po. "I made a promise." "You'll have to break it, then." "No," Po said out loud. His blood began to boil angrily and he stopped walking. Xia's face took on a look of anxiety as she halted beside him. "Are you okay, Po?" she wondered. "Your heart is beating faster than it should." She put her hand to his cheek. "You're burning up!" "I'm fine," said Po, trying to shake off Nuo Fu's disconcerting words. He found the past Avatar's evasiveness worrying. What was he hiding? And shouldn't he approve of Po's intentions in Kung? "I worked you too hard, didn't I?" Xia questioned. Her brow creased with worry. Po's anger diminished, but he remained warm. He suddenly realized why, and he watched as a blush crept across Xia's face as well. She removed her hand away from his face awkwardly and turned away from him. "If you're okay, we should keep walking," she commented. "There are some preparations to be made if our little rebellion is to go off without a hitch." "Yeah, you're right," said Po. As they approached the boundaries of Kung City, however, there was more on their minds than an impending revolution.
- Yes, does know what it's like to be disliked just for being foreign.
- "It was you! You ratted Dad out!" was taken directly from a Sokka quote.
- Xia is a tribute to Toph, a reason why she seems so familiar to .
- This chapter took longer to write than any other chapter thus far.
- This chapter sets up the Book One finale.
- Comments are welcome.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Fleeting Peace Chapters|
|Book 1: Rise and Fall|
|Disagreements - Handle with Care - Glimpses - Alliances - Curses - Idle - Half-Empty - Addition and Division - The Snitch - Revelations|
|Book 2: Success and Failure|
|Explanations - Omens - Looking Back - Factors - Ulterior Motives, Part 1: Jealousy - Ulterior Motives, Part 2: The Grandson - Shifting Tides - Repetition|
|Book 3: Cause and Effect|